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Capital Region Scrapbook: First Night of the 1990s (with photo gallery)

Capital Region Scrapbook: First Night of the 1990s (with photo gallery)

On Dec. 31, 1989, about 12,000 people were out on New Year’s Eve for Albany’s fourth year-ender part

Ice cream, horns, telephones, dancers and fireworks — they all said “Happy New Year” in 1990.

It might have been the last night of 1989, but it was “First Night” in downtown Albany. About 12,000 people were out on New Year’s Eve for the city’s fourth year-ender party. Musicians, dancers and actors were on 54 stages around Albany, and venues included the state Capitol, state Museum, the U.S. Post Office on Broadway, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the Palace Theatre.

Night life began at 7 with a parade that started at Lancaster and Lark streets and ended at City Hall, where Mayor Thomas M. Whalen III was given the oath of office to begin his new term.

Then the parties began. Ice cream lovers got free scoops of Ben & Jerry’s “Rainforest Crunch.” The Sharks, big names in the Capital Region in 1989, were at the Washington Avenue Armory. The Pro Musica Chorus and Mendelssohn Club choruses raised their voices at the Capitol.

Weather no bar

A threat of drizzle didn’t affect the merrymakers, although organizer Dale Crary described the weather as “the worst we’ve had.” Nobody minded: People wearing red and black “First Night” buttons stepped up into special buses that shuttled them around the city. Smart shoppers had purchased their buttons in early December for $8; procrastinators shelled out $10 on Dec. 31.

One of the biggest draws was free telephone calls to any place in the world. Cellular One/Albany Telephone Co. offered the communicators, and people called friends and relatives in places like Sweden and Australia. According to Schenectady Gazette reporter Kate Gurnett, others were interested in communications of a different sort. They were at City Hall for Ann Fisher’s psychic demonstration.

The big show ended at midnight, with a fireworks display.

Mayor Whalen was concerned that “First Night” was getting a little too big. “I think there is a sensitivity to too much growth,” he said. “The last thing we want is for people to be standing in lines.”

Never happened. After the millennium, attendance at Albany’s “First Night” began to drop, and the city ended the party in 2006. Saratoga Springs has carried the “First Night” banner in the Capital Region since 1996, and will ring in 2011 this Friday night.

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected]

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